JOHNSON: Timeless Order, Timely Mission - Dominicans return to the University of Houston

February 26, 2019

From the latter 13th Century when St. Thomas Aquinas engaged in academic debates at the University of Paris to the present age, the Order of Preachers (Dominicans) has always felt at home on campuses throughout the world. Dominican friars and sisters continued that tradition at the Catholic Newman Center on the main campus of the University of Houston for several decades beginning in the 1950s.

Now after a hiatus of nearly 10 years, it is truly a blessing for me to begin service this academic year as chaplain and director of the University of Houston Catholic Campus Ministry and renew a Dominican presence at the university. This return builds on over a century of service of Dominican friars in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston at Holy Rosary Catholic Church and other area ministries.

What is so important and unique about campus ministry?

In a nutshell, it’s about “bringing Christ to the campus and the campus to Christ.”

For Dominicans, it’s called Veritas, preaching and living the truth in university settings where the pursuit of knowledge not only seeks to illumine the minds of students and faculty, but is benefitted by the light of Christ. Noted Dominican author and poet, Father Paul Murray, O.P., sums it up as he writes: “Dominicans in every age tend to insist that there can be no serious awakening to God without an awakening in the mind.”

As many parents and young adults know well, in terms of the faith, the college years can be a time of great promise and concern. On college campuses, many students come to discover the richness of our Church for the first time or make a conscious decision to recommit themselves to the Catholic faith they learned at home and in their parishes. At the same time, the college experience can be when young people drift away from the Church, only to return over the years for a family wedding or funeral.

With 46,324 students enrolled at the beginning of the 2018-19 academic year, including 37,369 undergraduate students, the University of Houston is a place of increasing promise for the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. The vast majority of students are from the Houston metro area and many of them are first-generation college students.
Just like our Archdiocese, the student body reflects a natural diversity among the many ethnicities and national heritages present on campus.

Such factors make for exciting ministry, while the Dominican dedication to preaching is always meant to foster a dynamic approach to mission. This combination creates opportunities for the ageless message of Christ to flourish with new vigor and significance.

Thanks to the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, especially the Office of Young Adult and Campus Ministry, Dominican preaching returns to a familiar setting and a long-running ministry. A growing university like the University of Houston provides the opportunity to face new challenges with renewed hope. 

Father Charles Johnson, O.P., new chaplain and director of University of Houston Newman Center.